"I hear what you're saying, Uhura, but I just don't want to risk it," said Kirk, finally.
"It is not only the Kapponians' asexuality that is a factor," Spock added. "The unfortunate circumstances of their introduction to Terran culture means that the male personae they have chosen as personal avatars are particularly savage ones."
"I'm aware of that, sir."
By "Terran culture," Spock meant the book about 1930's gangsters that an early explorer had thoughtlessly left behind, unaware the entire planet would wind up emulating it to the point of mass obsession.
"It also means they have come to view the female as mythical, supernatural, and faintly demonic. Their reaction to your presence would more than likely be violent."
"I'm aware of that, too," said Uhura evenly, her arms crossed. "But I'm also aware that the Kapponian language is extremely complex, especially with the addition of depression-era Earth slang, and a misstep could be deadly." She focused her gaze on Kirk. "Frankly, I think I should be there with you."
"Trust me, Lieutenant, I would prefer nothing else," said Kirk, looking pained. "I think my fluency with their crazy language is a little below 'kindergartner.' But from what I understand about their value on confidence, if I don't persuade them to switch off the probe generator in the first two minutes, they're not going to listen to me anyway, whether I'm speaking Kapponian, Standard, Farsi, whatever. In which case I need you and Scotty up here to save our asses."
Uhura was clearly not pleased, but she nodded. "Aye, sir."
"Spock, Chekov, Sulu, you're with me."
Before they boarded the turbolift, Kirk gave Uhura a glance. "Be right back, I hope."
Captain Kirk had remarkably prescient timing. Fewer than ten minutes after the away team beamed down to the surface, the Enterprise received a distress call.
"Yeah, so," crackled Kirk's voice over the bridge, low and casual, almost in a whisper -- he clearly didn't want anyone around him to hear. The sound of glasses clinking and raucous laughter could be heard in the background. "They weren't impressed. Holding us at gunpoint now. Diplomacy time over, I think. Gonna have to destroy that probe after all. You can beam us out in the confusion. Phasers only, Mr. Scott."
"Aye, sir," said Scotty, looking very uncomfortable in the captain's chair. He raised a finger to Uhura, signaling her to cut off communication.
"Belay that order, ensign," he called over sharply to the ops officer, who had been powering up phasers. She looked surprised, but obeyed.
"Lieutenant Uhura?" Scotty said, beckoning to her. He looked a little desperate.
"Yes, sir?" she said, drawing close and keeping her voice low.
"That probe has almost fifty years' worth of Dr. Lenoir's multivariable theoroms in it," he told her fervently. "I would sooner blow up me own gran."
"And the idea of interplanetary aerobatics makes me queasy when Sulu and Chekov aren't here."
"Agreed. A recon mission, then?"
"You're readin' my mind. The problem is I can hardly speak Shetlandic, let alone whatever nonsense they babble down there. So unless I can bring an extensive collection of slides down with me, I think I'd be a disaster as a diplomat, you understand?"
"Perfectly, sir," said Uhura. She smiled a little. "I actually had someone else in mind."
The speakeasy was dim and smoky, its shuttered windows making the atmosphere even more claustrophobic. A jazz quartet strummed idly in one corner, its would-be crooner knocking back whiskey at the bar and laughing with the rest of the patrons at the group of doofuses on stage. The four of them, strangers all, had strolled in like they owned the place, which Mr. Liguori didn't much care for, and then insulted the honor of the establishment, which displeased Mr. L even further.
He'd expressed his unhappiness through his revolver and forced the four of them up on the stage, then barked out questions that their leader stammered to answer in heavily accented gabbledygook. It was extremely entertaining, especially because every time the place roared with laughter, the head doofus's face got redder and redder and his accent got even worse.
It was shaping up to be the juiciest night in weeks, when the door clicked shut again and the place went quiet.
Standing in the shaft of light from the broken front window was another stranger, young and thin, his face half-hidden in the brim of his fedora. He was dressed all in white, from his hat to his pinstriped suit to his tie to the brass-buttoned spats over his shining black penny loafers, except for his shirt, which was robin's-egg blue, echoed in the blue silk handkerchief in his breast pocket. His long black hair was gathered into a sleek ponytail at his nape, and his profile was fine-boned and youthful.
Mr. Liguori leaned back against his chair, studying him. The rest of the bar followed suit.
There was a long silence.
"Don't say much, do you, kid?" said Mr. Liguori finally.
The man tilted his hat up a little, and the smoky light reflected off dark eyes.
"Figured my compatriots already said enough," he answered after a minute, voice low and soft, tilting his head at the stage.
"Your compatriots?" said Mr. L. He gestured between the stranger and the stage. "You know these greaseballs?"
Mr. Liguori sounded casual enough, but some of the burlier men surrounding him had started to stand up.
"Cousins of mine," the young man said. He reached into his jacket smoothly, and a chorus of clicks sounded through the room as a hundred hands went to a hundred pistols. But the stranger just drew out a toothpick and put it to his mouth, perfectly calm. Three of his fingertips were wrapped in white tape.
"Got lost in the city, apparently," he continued. "They're from out of the country."
Mr. L barked out a laugh. "Yeah, I could tell, pal."
"They cause you any grief?" the young man continued, approaching the stage in smooth long-legged strides, hands in his pockets. Narrowed eyes glittered at him, but he seemed perfectly at ease, his shoulders relaxed, apparently unaware of the tommy guns trained on him from the shadows.
"In fact, they have," said Mr. L, clipping off the words so sharply that it sounded like "dey have." "These crumbs come waltzin' in and immediately start layin' the kibosh on the proceedings, running their mouths about gut rot when this ain't no gin mill, see? Not to mention crustin' on the cinders, where my brother Tommy happens to be employed. That ain't polite. That ain't good manners. And on top of it all, this peanut over here --" he gestured to the red-faced guy on the stage with his revolver -- "sounds like he's tryin' to talk to me through a mouthful of jacks and marbles. That ain't good manners."
The stranger stared thoughtfully up at the stage, rolling his toothpick between his fingers.
"Always knew they were dingled in the head," he said finally, easing himself into a chair. When he crossed his ankle over his knee, they could see his socks were blue, too. "Never knew it was this bad, though."
When he shifted his fedora back, they got a clear glimpse of his face for the first time. He was younger then he'd seemed at first, maybe even younger than the curly-headed doofus on stage who was nervously shifting his weight from one foot to the other. But he was slim and good-looking and clearly at ease, and probably most importantly he had a smooth, easy cool to him. And coolness was the one quality treasured most on Kappone.
"Caught all four of 'em eating lead paint a few years ago," he went on conversationally, turning to Mr. L. "I clobbered them when I found them, of course, but the damage was done. Nuttier than fruitcakes, now."
"Who da hell eats lead paint?" grumbled one of Mr. L's associates. There were murmurs of agreement.
"They did, I guess. Might have been something to do with gettin' hit by lightning when they were kids."
"Dey got hit by lightning, too?"
"All four of 'em," said the stranger. "Out on a sailboat, not a cloud in the sky -- BOOM." He clapped one fist into his palm. "Sizzled like sausages."
"Murder!" breathed the associate in awe.
"It's a miracle they survived. You mind if I try to reason with them?" He gestured to the stage. "They think of me as their pop or something now."
Mr. L narrowed his eyes.
"All right," he said after a minute. He cocked his revolver. "But no funny business, got it?"
"Believe me, no one wants them out of here more than I do," the stranger assured him.
Kirk had clearly changed his mind about Uhura joining them, because his face broke into open relief upon seeing her.
"'Billie Jean,' Lieutenant?" he said, keeping his voice low.
"'Smooth Criminal,' actually. You told them their alcohol was illegal?"
"Uh... I thought I was just asking for a drink."
"Also they apparently think you insulted their entire railroad system."
Kirk grimaced. "I was trying to tell them the generator was acting up. Get them to shut it down long enough for Scotty to beam up the probe --"
Chekov suddenly burst into an excited whisper. "Lieutenant Uhura!"
"Shh," said Sulu.
"I thought she was a man!"
"Lieutenant," Spock spoke up quietly. "It was my suggestion to intimate their railway generator was malfunctioning. However, I now believe this species views direct discourse with distrust. Perhaps... reverse psychology?"
"On it," said Uhura, giving him a wink. She fixed her face into a long-suffering expression, walked to the edge of the stage, and hopped off in one graceful motion, then began to engage the leader of the gangsters again in incomprehensible conversation.
The away team watched as he listened to her, the suspicious look on his face gradually softening. At one point he jerked back to look at Uhura in shock and repeated what she'd just said, sounding incredulous.
Uhura just nodded at him.
His eyes were wide as he regarded the stage. Then he tucked his revolver back into his shoulder holster and made a blessedly universal gesture of shooing in their general direction.
The entire speakeasy looked happy to finally see them go.
It wasn't until they had walked most of a block that Kirk jogged to catch up with Uhura, who had instructed them to follow her and "look kind of stupid," which none of them had had problems with.
"So what'd you tell them?" he asked her.
"I said you guys actually liked the railroad generator, because the funny sounds it was starting to make reminded you of the day you went sailing and got zapped."
"Got -- what?" Kirk sounded confused. Just then there was a beep from his communicator.
"Captain, the generator's been shut down and the probe's safely aboard," came Scotty's voice. "Are you five ready for beamup?"
"Uh," said Kirk, raising his eyebrows at Uhura. "Sure."
As they began to materialize, Kirk gave her an approving grin.
Back on the bridge, Kirk set his fedora to a rakish tilt before taking a PADD from Yeoman Rand.
"I wanted to feel cool at least once in this getup," he explained to Chekov and Sulu's questioning glances. They subtly adjusted their hats, too, apparently seeing his point.
"Ms. Rand, please put in a commendation for Lieutenant Uhura, who saved our butts and looked damn good doing it," Kirk continued, scrolling through the status reports. "Mr. Scott, well done not coming down yourself."
"I am nothing if not pragmatic."
"The bridge is yours for a little longer. We have to go get changed -- it's starting to look like a Cagney movie in here."
"Classy but anachronistic, Captain," Scotty agreed.
In the corridors, Sulu and Kirk compared their "gangster sneers" while Spock walked up next to Uhura.
"I must admit, Nyota," he said as they walked, "I am puzzled American females of the Depression era did not wear similar clothing to their male peers. I find your disguise particularly pleasing from an aesthetic point-of-view."
Uhura flashed him a grin. "Don't thank me, thank Michael Jackson. I completely stole his outfit."
Spock tilted his head.
Uhura stopped, causing Sulu and Kirk to nearly collide with her. Chekov, who'd been excitedly telling the two of them about the history of organized crime in Moscow, crashed into a bulkhead.
"Spock," said Uhura, noticing none of this. "You know Michael Jackson."
It wasn't a question.
Spock tilted his head a little more.
"That would seem to be a particularly common English-speaking name," he said.
"Whoa, wait," said Kirk, who'd been listening. "Spock, you know Michael Jackson, right? Like -- know him."
"I have read references to a twenty-second century entertainer by that name, yes."
"He was twentieth century!" exclaimed Uhura, looking shocked.
"Ah, my mistake."
"Wait a second," began Kirk and Sulu in disbelief, talking over each other.
"You do not know the dancing music of Michael Jackson?" Chekov cried, outraged, and Spock blinked at him.
"It was my understanding Mr. Jackson was American in nationality," said Spock, looking as if he'd lost his only ally.
"Yes, descended from famous Russian ballet family!"
"Come on," Uhura said firmly, taking him by his jacket sleeve. "We're going to watch Thriller, right now."
"I'm unsure if that's the most appropriate --"
"That's an order, Commander," said Kirk, leading the way to Uhura's quarters.